NASA spacecraft lands on Mars


"In some sense, it's like a time machine - it's measuring the structure of Mars that was put in place 4.5 billion years ago", Banerdt said.

NASA's Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft has reached the vicinity of Mars and is on its way to a soft touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet on November 26.

The two satellites not only transmitted the good news in nearly real time, they also sent back InSight's first snapshot of Mars just 4½ minutes after landing.

But it should be enough to give JPL's scientists a good look at their landing site.

NASA's InSight lander has been on its way to Mars since May. The landing capsule has to batter its way through the atmosphere. And in the final hours of InSight's almost seven-month, 300 million-mile-cruise, the two robots are having quite a conversation on Twitter.

"This is not really a drill, it is a probe which has a mechanism for hammering; it does not rotate like a drill, but it says directly on the inside up to 5 meters deep, we can hope for". Any steeper, and the probe will burn itself up in a spectacular and fiery death. During this phase, it will experience acceleration 12 times that of the Earth's gravity. Were the probe a 150-pound human, during the flaming descent, it would weigh almost a ton.

As the probe enters the atmosphere, the air molecules that make up the Martian atmosphere strike the heat shield, causing the shield to heat up and the craft to slow down.

From there, the most critical descent checklist unfolded at a rapid clip: 15 seconds to separate the heat shield.

InSight will fall for an additional two minutes attached to the parachute and protected by its conical shell.

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InSight will first touch the atmosphere six minutes and 45 seconds before landing. It will help inform the onboard navigation how to steer the craft once it cuts loose the parachute and lands using rockets.

The reason real-time control isn't possible is because it takes a radio signal approximately eight minutes to travel from Earth to Mars.

A successful entry, descent and landing (EDL) on Mars of the US spacecraft InSight will be largely decided by the two events of parachute deployment and radar lock-up, chief scientist of the Mars lander Bruce Banerdt said Sunday.

And they are right to be anxious. Eighteen have been successful. Meanwhile, two antennae will precisely track the lander's location to determine how much Mars wobbles as it orbits the sun. Well, as it happens, a lot.

NASA's last Martian landfall took place with the Curiosity rover in 2012, so interest in the mission was heating up, with viewing parties planned at museums, planetariums and libraries across the US. InSight will not move around. In MarCO's case, the new technology is communications equipment that will relay InSight's telemetry data back to Earth. Magnetization in ancient rocks suggest it had a global magnetic field like that of Earth, powered by a churning mantle and metallic core.

The InSight is carrying two main science instruments - a burrowing heat probe and a trio of highly sensitive seismometers - to help mission scientists map the Martian insides in unprecedented detail over the next two Earth years, according to Information gleaned from the waves the seismometer detects will tell us more about the planet's interior.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: The person responsible for getting InSight safely to the Martian surface is Rob Grover.

There are many reasons this is interesting.

Curiosity, Opportunity and Spirit have already provided scientists with a wealth of data on Mars from samples collected on the planet's surface, revealing the composition of its minerals and showing that the planet might have been capable of supporting life in the distant past.